Sulfite Free wines have no added sulfites but may contain trace amounts.

Even wines made without sulfites will still contain trace amounts of SO2.

There is a lot of confusion out there regarding sulfites and what it means to make a “sulfite free” wine.In reality it’s nearly impossible for a wine to be sulfite free as they are a natural biproduct of the fermentation process

Beyond the fact that they are naturally produced there is the issue of stability. Sulfites are used to stabilize wine against microbial spoilage and oxidation. Without them our wines become much more vulnerable and can potentially have a shorter shelf life.

 

Why Make Sulfite Free Wine?

By in large there are two main reasons many people opt to make sulfite free wines. First, the belief that sulfites cause headaches. Second, they opt to avoid sulfites in order to minimize the chemicals added to the wine or to make organic wine

Sulfites can cause headaches for people that are allergic to them. It turns out that only about one in ten thousand are allergic to sulfites so this isn’t the source of wine related headaches for most people.

Organic wines usually have to have a minimal amount of sulfites which cannot be added by the wine maker themselves. They are allowed to have that minimal amount because it is a naturally occurring by-product though.

Safe Practices when Making Wine Without Sulfites

If you’re careful and pay very special attention to equipment sanitation you can create a sulfite free wine. Because it does not have the added protection your wine will be very susceptible to spoilage bacteria. Here are a few things you can do to maximize your chances of successfully making a sulfite free wine.

1. Consider Pasteurizing Your Fruit

Pasteurizing involves heating your wine making fruit to a specific temperature for a specific amount of time such that the majority of micro-organisms are killed off. There are two methods you can follow to pasteurize your fruit.

The first is to bring your fruit to a full boil in a pot of water. After it starts boiling remove it from the heat and cool it in an ice bath. The second method involves heating your fruit to 145 degrees Fahrenheit (63 degrees Celsius) and keeping it there for 30 minutes. Again, cool the fruit in an ice bath before moving on. For more information listen to Winemaker’s Academy podcast episode 8.

2. Sanitize all equipment, working surfaces, and your hands very well.

I recommend using a commercial grade sanitizing agent such as Star San. You could use potassium metabisulfite but this does increase your chances of unintentionally adding sulfites to your wine.

While I’ve had success with Star San when making red and white wines I will warn you that one Academy member has had trouble with Star San causing off colors in his white wines. Do your best to let all of it drip off of your equipment and storage containers to minimize the possibility of this happening.

Private Preserve Inert gas system for wine preservation.3. Flush all carboys, bottles, and storage tanks with an inert gas to minimize exposure to ambient air.

As you know the air around us is full of yeast and bacteria. These would make themselves right at home in your sulfite free wine given the chance. Inert gases provide a buffer between these organisms and oxygen.

For the home wine maker there’s an inexpensive way to do this, Private Preserve. It’s an aerosol can full of inert an inert gas mixture designed for use with wine. One can, which costs about $10, has enough gas to flush about 120 wine bottles.

4. Bottle your wine as soon as you can.

Make sure fermentation has ended and that your sulfite free wine has properly cleared but your wine will be safer and better protected when bottled. By bottling you’ll be reducing the air gap above the wine and creating a much more secure seal once the cork has been inserted.

Final Thoughts on Sulfite Free Wines

Aside from these precautions the wine making process is otherwise identical. The fermentation and clearing processes are the same. You just need to be vigilant with sanitation and limiting your wines exposure to the outside world.

Lastly, I would consider using a synthetic closure that does not allow for micro-oxygenation. Because your sulfite free wine will be extra sensitive to oxygen limiting all exposure seems like a wise thing to do. This may not make much of a difference except if you were to age the wine for a considerable amount of time in the bottle.

Photograph by: US Department of Agriculture (weird right?)

  • Hi Jake, what I meant when I said that it’s difficult to make a sulfite free wine I was referring to the fact that some sulfites are produced during fermentation by the yeast. There is a lot of confusion out there regarding “sulfite free wine” and “no sulfites added”. I agree that you can certainly make a “no sulfites added” wine.

    I’d like to learn more about your methods if you don’t mind sharing. There is great interest in this topic and the wine making community at large could could benefit from your research. Feel free to share below.

    -Matt

  • Michelle

    I would like to add that while there may be few true sulfite allergies, intolerance to and sensitivity to sulfites is far more common and would easily cause headache/migraine among other things

    • Thanks for your insight Michelle! I’ve heard that histamines can also be causing headaches for those that have pollen or plant allergies. Have you heard this? It is amazing to me that even though we as a people have been making wine for thousands of years we’re still trying to figure it all out.